by Ian Marshall
The no.2 seed, at the final hurdle he beat Fan Zhendong, the top seed (11-4, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 3-11, 11-7) to claim the most precious prize of all.
Success for Ma Long came after Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the no.7 seed, had accounted for Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju, the no.5 seed (13-11, 9-11, 6-11, 11-4, 4-11, 15-13, 11-7), a contest in which he saved four match points in the sixth game.
Ma Long becomes the first player to retain the men’s singles title at an Olympic Games. He has won every time when he has played; in London in 2012 he only played in the men’s team event.
Against Fan Zhendong, he has now prevailed in 16 of their 21 matches on the international stage. However, commencing in 2019 it is only the third time he has won in seven meetings.
Since table tennis was first staged in the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988, it was the sixth all-Chinese men’s singles final. The exceptions are Seoul 1988 when an all Korea Republic final saw Yoo Namkyu beat Kim Kaitaek, Barcelona in 1992 when Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner overcame Frenchman Jean-Philippe Gatien and Athens in 2004 when Ryu Seungmin, like Yoo Namkyu from the Korea Republic, accounted for China’s Wang Hao.
Five Chinese players have won the men’s singles title at an Olympic Games: Liu Guoliang (1996), Kong Linghui (2000), Ma Lin (2008), Zhang Jike (2012), Ma Long (2016, 2020).
Meanwhile, it is the second time when Dimitrij Ovtcharov has won bronze in the men’s singles event at an Olympic Games and, as in London in 2012, he beat a player from Chinese Taipei to secure the third step of the podium. In England’s capital city, he accounted for Chuang Chih-Yuan.
Moreover, Dimitrij Ovtcharov has won a medal in every Olympic Games in which he has competed. Additionally, he won men’s team silver in Beijing (2008), men’s team bronze in London (2012) and Rio de Janeiro (2016).
Alas for Lin Yun-Ju, it was the second time he has finished in fourth place in the Olympic arena. At the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, he was beaten by Kanak Jha of the United States in the bronze medal contest.
Dimitrij Ovtcharov has now won three of the seven matches against Lin Yun-Ju at international level; notably he has claimed the two most recent, both this year, the other encounter being in the men’s singles final at the WTT Contender tournament in early March in Qatar.
It is the first time the men’s singles bronze medal match at an Olympic Games has gone the full distance.
Play resumes with the men’s team and women’s team events on Sunday 1st August.